The chief executive of Rio Tinto, the world’s second-biggest miner by market value, said he is interested in expanding the company’s lithium business, but mindful of paying too much for more of the battery material used to power electric cars.
“We wouldn’t mind having a stronger lithium business,” Jakob Stausholm told reporters after a shareholder meeting in Australia.
“I think it is very difficult to justify to go in and buy at these high prices unless you already know you can sell the lithium at a high price,” which is uncertain, he said of the potential for deal making.
Lithium prices surged to record highs last year amid strong electric-vehicles sales in China, but have pulled lower in recent months. Mr. Stausholm said the outlook for long-run lithium prices is unclear.
“I’m not sure the short term is giving you any indications of” long-term pricing, he said. “What we do know is the world needs to build a number of lithium mines.”
Mr. Stausholm said he remains hopeful of a way forward for Rio Tinto’s Jadar lithium project in Serbia, which ground to a halt last year when the government there revoked its licenses.
At its Rincon lithium project in Argentina, Rio Tinto is reviewing a $140 million estimate and schedule to develop a starter plant because of searing local inflation and rising equipment costs.
“Of course, I don’t like any cost overruns but, on the other hand, it basically provides invaluable learnings for us before a project is being recommended for full s